Pursuit of happiness: Arthur C. Brooks on a lifelong quest

Arthur C. Brooks has spent years studying happiness. He teaches a class on happiness and leadership at Harvard Business School, worked closely with the Dalai Lama, and walked the Camino de Santiago – a 100-mile Roman Catholic meditation trail.

He has also turned a trove of personal journals into his new book, “From Strength to Strength: Finding Success, Happiness, and Deep Purpose in the Second Half of Life.”

Why We Wrote This

A formula for happiness may seem too good to be true, but a new book takes the idea of ​​happiness beyond self-help, offering simple ideas we can all explore for deeper meaning.

The New York Times bestseller suggests readers focus on the happiness that already exists in their lives, and points to small daily steps people can take to cultivate happiness in the present.

“Satisfaction is not a function of what you have,” says Mr. Brooks. “It’s a function of what you have divided by what you want. … So your satisfaction can go up, paradoxically, by wanting less. Now how do you want less? You have to make a positive affirmative decision to do that, and you absolutely can.”

His formula for happiness focuses on love. “You can boil down all of the studies of happiness to five words,” he says. “Those words are: Happiness is love. full stop.”

Arthur C. Brooks has spent decades studying happiness. But in recent years the social scientist’s research turned into what he calls “me search.”

I have found that those who are unhappiest later in life are often the strivers on a continual quest for money, power, pleasure, and prestige. Mr. Brooks turned his introspection into a bestseller, “From Strength to Strength: Finding Success, Happiness, and Deep Purpose in the Second Half of Life.”

Formerly the president of the American Enterprise Institute, Mr. Brooks is now a columnist for The Atlantic. He also teaches a class on happiness and leadership at Harvard Business School. The Monitor recently spoke with him about his book about him. The discussion has been edited for length and clarity.

Why We Wrote This

A formula for happiness may seem too good to be true, but a new book takes the idea of ​​happiness beyond self-help, offering simple ideas we can all explore for deeper meaning.

How did you embark on your quest to understand happiness – and what most surprised you about what you discovered?

My wife read it – these are just my notebooks – and she said, “You’ve got to publish this as a book.” I said, “I don’t know if anybody’s going to read it.” And it opened [shortly after its debut in February] at No. 1 on The New York Times bestseller list.

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